Soccer team in thick of Sun Belt title chase
Denver, North Texas on tap for 'Senior Weekend'October 25, 2007 · MT Media Relations
After going unbeaten in their last five matches (4-0-1) the Blue Raiders have put themselves in the thick of the title chase heading into the home stretch and they definitely will have a say in the outcome of the league race one way or the other.
Middle Tennessee (8-5-3, 5-2-1) enters the final home weekend in fourth place but the Blue Raiders' final three matches are all against teams ahead of them in the standings. There are still several scenarios where the Blue Raiders could win the league championship as they prepare to face third-place Denver (8-3-4, 5-1-2) Friday at 7 p.m., and second-place North Texas (13-3-0, 7-1-0) on "Senior Day" Sunday at 1 p.m.
"There are several things that have to be done in order for us to get positive results this weekend," Middle Tennessee coach Aston Rhoden said. "Our players have to be able to deal with the significance of these games. We have to be able to adjust to two very talented teams with contrasting styles of play and try to execute our game plan.
"These games are important because they are conference games and they are games against opponents seeded higher than us in the Sun Belt. I expect very tough matches out of Denver and North Texas this weekend."
This weekend's final home contests also marks the final home appearances for seniors Ingrid Christensen, Kaley Forrest, Holly Grogan and Kala Morgan, who have been consistent contributors to Middle Tennessee's rise to contender status on an annual basis in the Sun Belt Conference.
Grogan will leave the program as Middle Tennessee's all-time leader in points (99), goals (37), and she is second on the all-time list in assists (25), while Morgan is third all-time in points (85), second all-time in goals (35) and fifth all-time with 17 assists. Forrest has been one of the most reliable players in program history, ranking among the top 10 in starts, games played and minutes played. Christensen, who earned Sun Belt Newcomer of the Year in 2005, has helped anchor one of the league's top defenses in each of her three seasons. She is a two-time All-Sun Belt selection and preseason pick in 2007.
"All four of these players have made significant contributions to our program and they have been consistent in the efforts," Rhoden said. "It would be nice to send them out with a successful 'Senior Weekend' but if that is to happen they are probably going to have a say in the outcome."
Middle Tennessee veterans have made their mark but a group of impressive freshmen have also played significant roles in the Blue Raiders' surge in the Sun Belt standings.
Kelly Downs has lit a spark in the offense, Vanessa Mueggler, Bethany Bertovic and Fran Howells have been solid and freshman keeper Kela Casiple has become the anchor of a strong Blue Raider defense. The Miami, Fla., native leads the Sun Belt in goals-against-average with a miniscule 0.56 mark and she is on pace to shatter the Middle Tennessee's single-season record in that category. Jenny Manis' 1.06 mark in 2004 is the current mark. Casiple has a 6-2-1 record since becoming the full-time starter at midseason and her five shutouts are third in the league standings and two behind the leader. The five blankings also are third on the single-season list at Middle Tennessee and two shy of the single-season record.
"We have so many new players in our program this year and it took us quite a long time to get everyone on the same page but now we are starting to see some of the benefits of what we did early," Rhoden said.
Follow the Blue Raiders on Twitter @MTAthletics for continued updates.
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